As you are probably aware: my first novella, The Machinist Book One: Malevolence, came out about two weeks ago. I’ve been wrangling my social media presence and getting myself back under control about checking and re-checking sales figures, SEO strategies and blog visits and the like (more on that dangerous compulsion some other time), and generally avoiding working on Book Two due to unexpected outside issues. But I’m back on track.
Anyway! I’ve been fielding some questions recently about my sources of inspiration for the characters and events featured in the book, and rather than answer them individually I decided to do a few whole-hog blog entries instead!
This is the first of a handful of lists like this that I plan on producing. I’ll talk about specific storylines and graphic novels another time. Without further ado, here are my de facto top five favorite villains!
5. Apocalypse (Marvel Comics)
When I was a young nerdling, it was the general consensus that the ancient Egyptian-born Apocalypse was the “first mutant” of Marvel Comics’ universe. This has probably been overwritten and retconned out the ass by now, but back then I thought that was pretty cool. The one thing that Marvel hasn’t messed with is the fact that Apocalypse is effectively undying, and pops up in the coolest places. He’s fought Dracula in the 1800s, brought ancient Rome to its knees, fought the X-Men and X-Factor time and again, and even pops up in the 39th century A.D. as a weakened—but still formidable—world conqueror.
Apocalypse is obsessed with the Darwinian concept of “Survival of the Fittest,” though he’s perverted the idea’s meaning to serve a slogan for his own goals. En Sabah Nur—his birth name—was raised by twisted mercenaries in the time before written language, so his outlook has always been barbaric. Having had his abilities and mind altered further by the galactic menaces called the Celestials, the ancient mutant wants to wipe out and replace all of humanity with mutantkind—but only the mutants who are strong enough to survive in a kill or be killed world he constantly seeks to create. He doesn’t ever realize that he is simply a pawn of the Celestials in their plan to eliminate all non-Celestial life from the universe.
My understanding is that Apocalypse has been killed and resurrected a number of times of late, and is currently a young man under the tutelage of Wolverine’s new X-school. Now, it seems that he’s a good kid, a vat-grown clone who was telepathically raised in a morally upright virtual reality. I am not sure how I feel about Marvel neutering one of their most dangerous villains like this, no matter how overused he was getting.
4. Sinestro (DC Comics)
When Thaal Sinestro made his first appearance he wasted no time in establishing himself as a dangerous foe for Green Lantern Hal Jordan: He teleported the entire population of a Californian city to a hostile planet just to get the hero’s attention! Sinestro was beckoning Jordan into a trap designed to test his method of draining the power rings of the Green Lantern Corps. Sinestro, you see, had a long-standing grudge against the Corps’ little blue bosses, the Guardians.
Once one of the most promising of the Guardian’s Lanterns, Sinestro used the abilities granted to him by his power ring to conquer his homeworld of Korugar and subjugate his people under a totalitarian dictatorship with him at the top. When his abuse of power was exposed, the Guardians stripped Sinestro of his power ring and exiled to an alternate universe. No, space-jail was not good enough for those blue bastards, no sir. Exile from the damn universe!
However, if anyone took the time to question Sinestro about his motivations to hold Korugar in an iron grip, however, he would’ve justified his actions: As a cultural anthropologist and archaeologist, Sinestro had discovered that his war-torn, impoverished homeworld was once the shining jewel of the universe. Shredded by centuries of civil war, the people of his world were too weak and too poor to rebuild their world, unify and defend themselves from alien invaders. Under Sinestro’s rule, dozens of potential conquerors were repelled, saving millions of lives and allowing the people of Korugar to rebuild. That they were primarily building statues of Sinestro is beside the point.
And without giving away too much about current goings-on in comic books, it’s been revealed that the Guardians are evil little fuckers—and that their treatment of Sinestro was hypocritical considering their own goals and actions through the centuries. The things they’ve done are so much worse, and on a galactic scale!
3. Magneto (Marvel Comics)
If you’ve seen any of the forty-million X-Men movies that came out in the last ten years you’re familiar with Erik Lensherr’s life story. It is unfortunate that this very cool antagonist was utilized as a villain in the majority of the films because he’s become overexposed now; I am positive there are kids out there who think Magneto is the X-Men’s one and only enemy.
I like to think that the original X-Men comic series was Stan Lee’s way of exploring the then-current and controversial Civil Rights movement, a way to explore the effects of America’s cultural mores without pointing fingers at anyone who actually existed. The original take on Professor Xavier has a lot of parallels to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., while Magneto could be looked at as an exaggeratedly militant Malcolm X (interesting reversal of names there, Stan).
What I’ve always felt was so fascinating about Magneto was the fact that, in response to the hatred directed towards mutants, Lensherr became just as extreme in his actions as the Nazis who tried to wipe out his own Jewish people. Time and again, he tried to segregate humans and mutants or outright wipe non-powered humans from the face of the Earth. There’s a great line in The Dark Knight that applies here: “Either you die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It wasn’t until very recently that Magneto realized that was happening to himself, but I do believe that the current run of X-titles is showing Lensherr having re-reversal of opinion anyway.
The only thing I fear for Magneto is the fact that that his World War II connection will soon be lost. Expecting people to nearly-sympathize with a character whose motivations are from eight decades in the past is tough. That’s unfortunate, because the Holocaust was a terrible event that needs to live on as an infamous part of our history—but it’s stretching the boundaries of suspension of disbelief at this point to expect readers to accept Magneto as anything other than a frail old man if he’s alive at all. I would not be surprised if Magneto gets cloned into a younger body (again?) or gets retconned as a survivor of a more recent genocidal event. I could get behind an African American Magneto that lived through Rwanda in the nineties, if it was handled with taste and maturity.
2. Zoom (DC Comics)
The second DC villain to use the “Zoom” moniker, Hunter Zolomon started as a good guy: He was an FBI profiler and an ally of the Flash (Wally West) until he was left crippled by an imprisoned supervillain’s assault. When the Flash refused to use his Cosmic Treadmill to change history and undo the event, Zolomon stole the Treadmill and tried to take matters into his own hands. Unable to properly control the energies released by the device, Zolomon was caught in an explosion that disconnected him from time and drove him insane.
Unlike his namesake, Zoom’s goals were not to wreak random havoc on his superhero nemesis, but rather he became obsessed with turning the Flash into a “better hero”—one who would be willing to do whatever was necessary to save innocents from harm, no matter the consequences. The new Zoom tried to do this by unleashing cold, calculated assaults on the hero’s friends and family throughout the timestream.
You might’ve noticed from the two prior entries in this list that I’ve got kind of a thing for sympathetic supervillains, or at least ones who started out that way. Even though Malevolence doesn’t touch on that—at least, not intentionally—, I am using the sequel to explore the Machinist/Nicholas McHenry’s motivations for starting his career of villainy. And who knows? Maybe he got his wrong start for the right reasons, too…
1. Doctor Doom (Marvel Comics)
Did you guys seriously think you could get through a Top 5 Supervillains list without seeing Victor Von Doom on it? Despite how he was portrayed in the horrible Fantastic Four movies, Doctor Doom remains my top villain.
Master of dark magic? Check.
Incomparable scientific genius? Check.
Rules his own nation? Check.
Stylish cloak? Check.
I really don’t know what to say about Doctor Doom that hasn’t been said by others in the past. If you’ve read Malevolence and discovered the main antagonist of the story, you’ll see a lot of him is drawn from my own love for Victor Von Doom.
Now I’d like to turn the mic over to you guys! What do you think of my rankings? How would you rate them differently? Is there anyone you’d replace with another villain? Let’s hear it!